July 22, 2011 at 11:33 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
DOD officials: Benefits for gay troops will be examined

Marine Maj. Gen. Steven Hummer and Virginia "Vee" Penrod, co-chairs of the Repeal Implementation Team (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Possible benefits that could be afforded to service members with same-sex partners will be the “the largest piece” of what the Pentagon intends to examine in the 60 days before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is off the books, according to DOD officials.

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Steven Hummer, chief of staff of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal Implementation Team, identified benefits Friday as among the policies “important to the department and service members” and said they’ll be examined before and after the military’s gay ban has been lifted.

“The department will continue to study existing benefits to determine those, if any, that should be reviewed based on policy, fiscal, legal and feasibility considerations, to give the service member the discretion to designate persons of their own choosing as beneficiaries,” Hummer said.

Hummer made the remarks during a news conference at the Pentagon intended to answer questions about the path forward for the military now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal has been certified. The president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certified repeal Friday in accordance with the repeal law, which means the military’s gay ban will be off the books on Sept. 20.

Even with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” off the books, gay service members with partners or spouses faced inequities thanks to straight service members in marriages on issues such as living expenses and medical care, travel, housing benefits. Much of this inequity is because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether the Repeal Implementation Team identified any partner benefits that could go to gay service members despite DOMA, Virginia “Vee” Penrod, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy and co-chair of the Repeal Implementation Team, said the group determined to hold off on those determinations until after repeal takes effect.

“When we looked at the plan for implementation of the law, our priority was to develop the training and ensure that the force is trained,” Penrod said. “And looking at that priority, we realized the benefits, although very important — that we would wait until repeal before we decided to look in the benefits; which we will do upon repeal.”

Pressed by the New York Times for an example of a benefit that may be afforded to service members despite DOMA, Penrod said legal counsel may be among them.

“We have, like, legal policy for — where an individual could come in and would request legal assistance,” Penrod said. “And whether or not is that just for the service member or can I bring in my partner and also have assistance, and so that’s an example. There are just some that are not by law, but it’s by policy.”

Another reporter continued to ask whether the difference in benefits for gay and straight service members “may cause friction” in the armed forces that could disrupt unit cohesion.

Hummer maintained the Pentagon “will continue to follow the law” as mandated by DOMA and leaders are responsible for maintaining good order and discipline “irrespective of sexual orientation.”

In addition to maintaing that an examination of benefits is in the works, Pentagon officials disputed the notion that an executive order would be necessary to provide non-discrimination protections for gay service members. While “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is on its way to being lifted, no new statute has been put in its place to protect gay troops from discrimination.

Some advocates have been calling for an executive order from President Obama that would prohibit discrimination against service members on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Obama administration hasn’t explicitly said whether or not it would issue such a directive, but Pentagon officials have maintained the current military code within the chain of command is sufficient.

Asked whether an executive order would be needed to address discrimination, Hummer replied, “I believe it does not.”

“All service members, irrespective of their sexual orientation, are entitled to an environment that is free of any bars that would prohibit their full growth to as high a responsibility as they could reach,” Hummer said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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  • Friday’s briefly was a classic example of another DoD Smoke [DOMA] and Mirrors [distortions] act in which the ability of its shills to so easily stand up and not just twist the facts but lie outright never ceases to amaze me. Re benefits: the “Pentagon Working Group Report” [PWGR] and its “Support Plan for Implementation,” released last November, proves they have ALREADY examined the legal issues in detail, and at least begun discussion of fiscal ramifications; identifying three types of benefits…”partner benefits” banned by DOMA, “partner benefits” NOT banned by DOMA, and “member designated benefits” that could legally be assigned to anyone including a same-gender partner. The authors admitted that the second category is unequivocally at the discretion of the Pentagon, and that it includes the extremely vital “military family housing,” BUT recommended that access be denied to gay couples, allegedly because it would be “unfair” to unmarried straight couples already precluded.
    The statements of Bush-holdover Penrod are further contradicted by material that has been used in the very” training sessions” she references. They prove they have ALREADY made at least some decisions based on the PWGR, though the degree to which they’re detailed varies between branches. SOME EXCERPTS, emphasis theirs; parenthetical comments mine:

    “Federal law and Department of Defense regulations do NOT restrict a Marine or Sailor from designating a same-sex partner as a beneficiary for certain benefits such as the posthumous disbursement of funds from their Thrift-Savings Plan, the selection of a beneficiary for death gratuity and the proceeds from a life insurance policy provided under SGLI, or payment of any unpaid pay and allowances. … The Department of Defense and the Marine Corps currently authorize assignment to military family housing, also known as MFH, to those Marines and Sailors eligible for BAH at the with-dependent rate. Current federal law, including the Defense of Marriage Act, precludes the Department of Defense from providing BAH to Marines and Sailors at the with-dependent rate unless the Marine or Sailor has a statutorily authorized dependent, such as a child.” [This appears intentionally dishonest. They are NOT required to limit MFH to only “those eligible for BAH at the with-dependent rate.” Echoed in Air Force slides script.]

    “SITUATION: … A Marine who is known to be gay, recently adopted a son and reports to your office to discuss his Military Family Housing application. … He also requests that his same-sex partner, who is his son’s primary care provider, occupy the quarters as well.
    Issues: Benefits and Standards of Conduct. Are there guidelines for same-sex partners occupying Military Family Housing? …
    Discussion: You should inform the Marine that because he has a qualifying dependent son that he is indeed authorized Military Family Housing. Local policies regarding live-in child care providers or other non-dependents living in base housing should be followed for the same-sex partner. …” [Those couples who have such minor dependents should not hesitate to use this “workaround”—and threaten to legally challenge any “local policies” that attempt to prevent it.]

    “Non-dependents are generally NOT authorized to reside in military family housing” [This hedging is encouraging.]

    “At this time, given federal definitions, same-sex partners will not be considered dependents for the purpose of benefits eligibility” [This seems to want to have it both way, qualifying with “at this time,” but leaving the impression that they have no choice when, again, some definitions are entirely up to the Secretary of Defense.]

    “Current Navy policy states that non-dependents are NOT allowed to reside in MFH. There has been no change to this policy.” [Curiously declarative versus the equivocation in the slides.]

    “As part of the post-repeal follow-on review, the DoD will REVISIT the issue of benefits and support-resources eligibility, including whether a ‘qualifying relationship’ status should be established for committed same-sex relationships, or for both committed same-sex and committed unmarried opposite-sex relationships, for these purposes. … The DoD and the Navy ARE studying whether some benefits may, consistent with current law, be revised to give the Sailor the discretion to designate a person or persons of their choosing as a beneficiary.” [emphasis mine]

    Finally, OF COURSE, Gen. Hummer doesn’t believe it’s “necessary” for the President to issue an executive order banning discretionary benefits discrimination OR the discrimination they are also PREMEDITATIVELY implementing in denying gay and lesbian service members harassed or discrimination against in terms of assignments, evaluations, etc., access to the vital complaint resolutions processes under the Military Equal Opportunity Plan provided to nongays relative to race, gender, ethnicity, and religious and political affiliation. That would mean the Pentagon can’t continue to try to get away with whatever it wants.

    Of course, this could all have been avoided in the first place had Obama not backed, per no less than Nancy Pelosi, Secretary Gates’ demand in May of last year that the nondiscrimination mandate in the original repeal bill be gutted.

    In short, because actual repeal no longer means actual equality for gay and lesbian troops, our fight is NOT over, but repealing DOMA isn’t necessary to knock down some walls that the Pentagon has arbitrarily built.

  • This article was so meandering as to be incoherent.

    It’s amazing that Obama’s defenders like to go on and on about his being so highly intelligent, and like to embellish his adjunct professor position at the University of Chicago Law School to his being a Professor of Constitutional Law.

    But if he is a genius and an expert at Constitutional Law, why did he not know that DOMA would invalidate his executive orders extending partner benefits to gay federal employees? Which lie is true?

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